Sunday, February 10, 2013

Holster thoughts for Concealed Carry

One of the great things about living in a "shall issue" state is that citizens come to realize that they are responsible for their own safety, and they take steps to do something about it. There are a lot of missteps, of course, but steps are steps and as long as you're trying to learn and grow and keep moving forward, that's all that matters to me. Its not easy to remember, sometimes, that everybody starts at zero, regardless of how much you know now or how good your sources of information are.

I've noticed, though, that a lot of holster customers don't really have the information they think they do when they're looking for a way to carry their chosen weapon. For every upside, there is a downside, and that's doubly true for carrying a pistol because all these different areas work together...or against each other if you're not aware of what's up with the what's up. To that end, I wanted to share some thoughts on holsters and the pluses and minuses of them. Hopefully I'll be able to show that unconventional carry is unconventional for a reason, and it's not always a good one.

So where do you start this journey? With a belt. You must have a belt that's built for supporting a pistol. Lots of people hate wearing belts and want to use a paddle holster instead. Well, guess what: a properly designed paddle holster, that's built not to come out with the gun when you draw it, is meant for use with a belt. A good belt is an investment, because quality lasts. They don't have to cost a ton, but the "you get what you pay for" axiom holds true here, too. There are lots of choices: great leather is available from commercial sources like Galco and Bianchi and custom leather makers like Mernickle Custom Holsters, C. Rusty Sherrick and Haugen Handgun Leather. If you want something dressier than nylon without being leather, there are Biothane belts from Maxpedition, who offer the Liger Belt line, and First Spear. There's lots of good nylon, too, from The Wilderness, Ares Gear and others. No matter what you choose, you have to have a belt that will support a holster and the gun that's in it, so stiffness from edge to edge is critical. Flexibility from end to end will generally make a more comfortable belt, but it HAS to be stiff enough to support your holster. Get a belt specifically designed for the purpose and you'll experience way more comfort and far less fatigue, and fatigue is one of the things that will keep you from carrying all the time. The gun you don't have with you when you need it doesn't help you.

The first general category is what I will call belt scabbards, and those can be inside the waistband (IWB) and outside the waistband (OWB). OWB holsters are generally a lot easier to draw from because there's a bit of stand off from the body, at least in comparison to IWB. IWB are generally a good bit easier to hide but hide the gun a good bit more, which is handy when in places where lots of people tend to be, like a movie theater or at church. There's a ton of different materials available, and all of them work while having different characteristics. Leather and synthetic leather will generally be the most comfortable because they eventually break in and mold themselves to you. My main holster is a synthetic belt slide, a Safariland 529 that I've been using for a couple of years now. Incidentally,
those belt loops are snapped, and they work in the easy-on, easy-off method that most people think a paddle will. There are also all-Kydex holsters from Raven Concealment Systems and everyone that's copying their design and making refinements and changes to it (some good, some bad, depending on how much those makers know about carrying a gun). This is the go-to type of holster that is money in the vast majority of situations.

IWB has the advantage of hiding the gun "deeper", but at the expense of making the draw a little more difficult (or a lot more, depending on whether the designer has drawn guns from IWB concealment before) because the gun's grip is held closer to the body. Still, a well designed IWB is very comfortable and hides the gun exceptionally well. My primary IWB is a Bianchi M135 Allusion Suppression which is a great holster with a terrible name. It's a hybrid in that it's a leather base with a kydex/leather pouch for the pistol. The flange of the holster makes it wrap around the hip and is super comfortable, but is easier to draw from and return the holster to because it doesn't collapse.
It's also tuckable, which means that you can tuck your shirt in behind the belt loops to cover the gun even more, but I don't want to make the gun that hard to get to; I don't tuck shirts in. In an office situation where you're in a suit and have to take that jacket off from time to time, you may not have a choice. My friend Greg Peters at Peters Custom Holsters makes a great IWB holster from Kydex called the Hold Fast that's great, and there are many, many others.

The above are the common methods because they've been proven to work in the widest arrays of situations. Sometimes situations call for alternatives, but they should be seen as alternatives in special situations, rather than primary modes of carry. Why? Because other modes of carry have significant downsides to them, and one must balance those downsides versus what is to be gained. Often, those other modes aren't necessary and put the gun carrying person at a disadvantage. That doesn't make them wrong; far from it. They may be suboptimal for your requirements, and unnecessarily handicapping you. I'm just gonna point them out and give the upside and downside to them. As always, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).

Lately a lot of people I know have been using Appendix Inside the Waistband carry (AIWB), which puts the gun on the front of the body on the strong side (whichever the dominant hand is). The plus side to this is that it puts the gun in position to be drawn quickly with little extra movement, and it hides the gun really well, especially with the very minimalist holsters used in this position. There are a couple downsides, too: you're limited by comfort and practicality on what guns you can carry this way;  subcompacts like the Glock 26/27 don't have enough muzzle to them to stay put well (obviously depending on holster design) and large guns like a 5" 1911 (the only 1911's as far as I'm concerned; I'm pretty old school in that regard) can be quite a load in that position. Additionally, forget sitting down like a normal human; you're going to have to recline or get jabbed by the gun's muzzle, or carry a much smaller gun with less barrel. I'm not a fan of carrying the smallest possible gun, but I am a fan of carrying the smallest gun YOU CAN EFFECTIVELY FIGHT WITH. Another downside: its not for plus sized people, so if you're carrying a decent sized flesh doughnut, this method isn't going to work optimally for you.

More or less opposite of AIWB carry is Small of the Back (SOB) carry. Again, the plus side is deep carriage of the gun, but there are two significant downsides: first, having a gun in the small of your back may make sitting down very uncomfortable, so i you spend a lot of time seated, this is probably the worst option for you. The other significant downside is that when you go to draw the gun, an adversary can put you in a hammerlock position with just a little pressure on your drawing elbow.

Shoulder holsters work well for carrying under a jacket, and in crappy winter weather are somewhat easier to get guns out of than a waist holster is. The downside is that if the gun is horizontal, your muzzle is constantly sweeping others, and if its vertical, its more difficult to draw from.

Ankle holsters are often seen as the deepest cover position, and in some cases that's true. It's one of the best options for carrying in a seated position, such as when you're driving. When it's your primary method, though, you're limited to what guns you can carry (obviously, the bigger the gun, the less comfortable it is) and can lead to all the impediments you can think of that come from having weight on one foot and not on the other. They may not be severe, but that doesn't mean there's no penalty. Additionally, if you're walking down the street and need your gun, you have two choices to get to it: first, take a knee. If you're getting shot at, you have to choose drawing and returning fire for as long as it takes you to get that gun from your knee, and then moving to cover. The other choice is to be on one foot for as long as it takes you to get the gun off your ankle. If you're on uneven ground or on the low ground, that can present its own set of problems.

Ankle carry is a decent option if you're driving a lot or spending a lot of time at a desk where having a gun on your waist is not practical. Carrying a gun in the car is a tough situation, because the laws governing that can vary a LOT. In KY, its legal to transport your gun on the passenger seat, while I don't believe that's the case in TN, and I'm sure several other states. What several friends have done is to screw a holster to the underside of their steering column, and putting the gun there while driving. I'm still examining that option, and I like the idea. There are other options, as well. In KY, I can conceal any weapon I can inflict deadly force with, so I have other close combat options that other states don't have, and some states may be excessively restrictive on a gun but may not be on a baton or a knife. Know your local and state laws to see what your options are. While I don't believe in taking a knife to a gun fight, I always have a knife at the gunfight.

This post was intended to get a shooter new to carrying to think about the options they have to do so. It's not the be all, end all, and it certainly isn't the exhaustive list. While nothing is always true all the time, with some training, practice and experience, most will find that strong side carriage on the waist is the best option. Don't try to reinvent the wheel just because you're new to the scene, learn from those who've gone before and save yourself some headaches...sorta like how every dang holster ever designed is made for the Glock first. In Police work, they call that a "clue".

Pictures courtesy of Safariland and Bianchi.


Kevin Austin said...

I like the paddle holster personally. It goes on the outside but the holster clips under my belt on the inside.

Inside my pants holsters always pinch me when I sit or bend over. Plus, my waistline doesn't leave much room anymore for a gun! :)

I always tell my concealed carry students that they should try out as many holsters as possible, and even have more than one depending on the outfit (especially the ladies).

I have started my own concealed carry blog (shameless plug here) at Personal CCW Blog Perhaps you could let me know what you think of it so far?

Haji said...

Try one of the new "widebody" IWB rigs, like the Allusion Suppression I mentioned, the King Tuck from Galco or the Supertuck Deluxe from Crossbreed. They'll probably change your mind about IWB holsters. They hide a whole lot better than they appear to.